Under a mandate in the Illinois Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, Evanston must now replace, not repair, lead water pipes.
To ensure the city is capable of taking on the work, city staff are in the process of developing a Lead Service Line Replacement Workforce Program, which would train community members as apprentices to carry out this specialized work.
David Stoneback, interim Deputy City Manager and Director of Public Works, presented plans for the program at the March 28 Administration and Public Works Committee.
On average, Evanston repairs 65 service lines each year, officials said. Under the proposed plan, the city would hire six apprentices in 2022 and train them to replace city-owned lead service lines. Each apprentice would receive a $31,000 annual salary, paid by the Water Fund.
To accommodate the increased workforce, the city also plans to add four full-time positions in the water division, and three full-time positions in the street division, officials said. Graduates of the apprenticeship program will be the most qualified candidates for these roles.
Salaries for these positions range from $77,500 to $120,000 annually, totaling $736,000 annually. The water fund will also cover this cost, though a 9% water rate increase is needed, Stoneback said. This increase would take place over two years, with a 5% increase in 2023 and a 4% increase in 2025.
These employees will also need new equipment, including a 10-ton dump truck, a boring machine and a backhoe, and additional materials, including concrete, asphalt and copper, to carry out the work.
The materials will cost the city $125,000, paid by the water fund, according to city data. City staff recommend using American Rescue Plan Act funds to cover the cost of new equipment, estimated at $930,000.
The city allocated $6 million in ARPA funds to infrastructure, and $3 million has been spent, Stoneback said at the meeting. He proposed that of the remaining $3 million, nearly $1 million be spent on the equipment. The leftover $2 million could be used to hire plumbers to replace the private portion of the lead service line replacements, he said.
Speaking at the meeting, Council member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, explained that the proposed workforce development program is based on a referral he made in August.
The City of Evanston will spend the next 30 years replacing service lines, and it’s important that some of this work is set aside for Evanston residents, said Burns. He added that the city could specifically encourage residents from financially unstable households to apply to the program.
“These are $100,000 a year jobs,” said Burns. “It’s excellent work.”
Stoneback added that the city currently operates a Water Worker Apprenticeship Program that is very successful. About 30% of the union positions at the Water Plant are former apprentices, and graduates have also found jobs in other City of Evanston departments and in other municipalities, he said.
Councilmember Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, expressed his support for the program but suggested that city staff consider a model in which apprentices earn a higher salary.
Although the program will feed into a high-paying job, apprentices will invest a lot of time in the training process, and with $31,000, they may not be able to afford Evanston rent or be able to support a family, Braithwaite said.
Regardless of who carries out the work, the City of Evanston is required to replace broken lead service lines moving forward, Stoneback concluded. Under the proposed plan, community members could develop significant construction skills while completing necessary work, he said.
I really don’t understand why we are not using the all or most of the ARPA funds to fast-track replacing all of the lead pipes in Evanston. No amount of lead in water is safe. This is a public health issue for the entire community, and having these funds is a one-time gift that we should be investing in our public health infrastructure. Instead we are going to take 30 years to replace these pipes AND raise water rates?
Will homeowners have to pay for the lead pipe line replacement from the street to their homes? How much will that cost, and can City funds be used to help each homeowner pay the cost, or can the cost be pro-rated on water bills over the next 30 years?